The eigh-teenth Conference of Parties (COP18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Doha, Qatar in December last year, ended a day late after a marathon 48 of hours non-stop negotiations amongst the developed and developing countries on a range of critical issues. One of these so-called "crunch" issues was how to address Loss and Damage from Climate Change.
The small island developing states, who negotiate under the umbrella of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), have been pushing this agenda item for many years with little success as the developed countries routinely blocked any discussions on the topic. The reason for the latter's reluctance to take up the topic is that it might open the door to questions of liability and compensation (which are taboo subjects for the rich countries). This is the story of what happened on loss and damage at Doha.
The compromise language of "loss and damage" (as opposed to"liability and compensation") was agreed at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010 as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework which established a Work Programme on Loss and Damage. This was further elaborated in COP17 in Durban, South Africa in December 2011 where a one-year set of workshops and consultations was put in place to report back for a decision in COP18 in Doha in December 2012.
The discussions in Doha revolved around the demand from AOSIS, with strong backing from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group and the Africa Group, for an "International Mechanism on Loss and Damage" to be established in Doha. This was fiercely resisted by the developed countries, led by the United States of America, who argued that there was no need for a separate track of discussions or decision on "loss and damage" as it was nothing new and could be discussed under the existing adaptation tracks.
This deadlock persisted through an all-night negotiating session on the second last night through the entire final day and into the night after the COP was meant to close. At about 2 am on the last night (after almost 36 hours of non-stop negotiation) the head negotiator from the United States suddenly turned up in the "loss and damage" negotiating group (until then it was being handled by a mid-level member of the US delegation) to see what all the fuss was about.
The AOSIS and LDC Group had to scramble to get their ministers and heads of delegation into the room to face the US head of delegation. The ministers from AOSIS, as well as those from the LDCs, stood together and told the US that they were prepared to go home from Doha with nothing if they didn't get what they wanted on "loss and damage," and they further said that they would blame the intransigence of the US delegation for Doha's failure.
In the face of this steadfast resolve from the vulnerable countries the US backed down and agreed the package of decisions that came to be known as the "Doha Gateway" with the crucial passage on "loss and damage" as follows:
"9. Decides to establish, at its nineteenth session, institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism, including functions and modalities, elaborated in accordance with the role of the Convention as defined in paragraph 5 above, to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change."
One of the reasons that the US backed down was the fact that at the very same time as they were negotiating in Doha, the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut together with the city of New York were presenting a bill of $80 billion for "loss and damage" from hurricane Sandy that had hit the northeastern coast of the United States some weeks before. So the developing countries (and US journalists in Doha) rightly asked the US if they could have "loss and damage" at home, why couldn't they allow it at the international level?
The Bangladesh government, and the delegation at the COPs, as part of the LDC Group, has been playing a leading role on this topic, right from getting the original Cancun decision to facing down the US in Doha with our negotiators being in the negotiating room non-stop for over 48 hours. Bangladesh hosted a crucial meeting of the LDC Group just after Durban where the Group prepared themselves to tackle "loss and damage" in earnest.
The government of Bangladesh also initiated a major year-long international research project on behalf of all the vulnerable countries which was able to contribute with knowledge and evidence to support the negotiators from AOSIS and LDC Group in Doha.
Bangladesh is also now in a position to lead the thinking about the "international mechanism" which has been agreed at Doha. Perhaps a first step would be for Bangladesh to think about setting up a "national mechanism" that could then lead to an "international mechanism."